with S. Ye Laird
Kenneth Rexroth 王红公 (1905 - 1982) “The Poet As Translator“
-- that the translation of poetry into poetry is an act of sympathy--the identification of another person with oneself, the transference of his utterance to one's own utterance. The ideal translator, as we all know well, is not engaged in matching the words of a text with the words of his own language. He is hardly even a proxy, but rather an all-out advocate. His job is one of the most extreme examples of special pleading. So the prime criterion of successful poetic translation is assimilability. Does it get across to the jury?
In the summer of 1951, famed writer/playwright Laoshe 老舍 (1899 - 1966) visited the home of world famous Chinese watercolor painter Qi Baishi 齐白石 (1864 - 1957). Previously, Laoshe has written to Qi a couple lines from two poets of early Qing dynasty he admired ( 查慎行 & 赵执信), to ignite Qi's artistic interest to 'translate' words into his own art form.
Here's the genesis of the later most well-known watercolor work by Qi, entitled "蛙声十里出山泉". It is said that it took the master painter three days and three nights to re-create an imagery that most faithfully reflecting the given line, by the playwright/writer Laoshe. In order to see the whole picture, I located two poems and translated four lines from one for our readership here, to fathom why a masterpiece becomes a masterpiece in that oriental world of my birth country.
Fireflies chase the first rising star,
by grassy river bank。
Frogs croaking miles after miles,
outrun the mountain stream
New verse no longer rhymes with old habits
Able man with good resolve is rare,
and not so easy to come up。
by T.S. Eliot
Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man's gift and that man's scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?
Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink**
There, where trees flower, and springs flow,
for there is nothing again
Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice
And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us.
Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.
Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
-- translator S. Ye Laird 叶澍苍 释译 *
空气稀薄又干燥 , 比意念还要渺小
-- 程家惠，程晟 译
* "Ash Wednesday" was T.S. Eliot's first long poem, composed and published during the years 1927 - 1930. "Perch' Io non Spero" (part I of "Ash-Wednesday") was published in the Spring, 1928 issue of Commerce along with a French translation. I do not know if there was ever a complete Chinese translation of Part I. I started this translation in 2012, just before the Lent. This line 'Because these wings are no longer wings to fly...' gave me a long pause. I didn't pick up the translation until recently when I encountered this writing Grasping for Grace: The Strangeness and Difficulty of Faith in T.S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday : "Without wings, there is no transcendence, no salvation. With this in mind, I read Part I of the poem as depicting the radical loss of hope that comes when we rely only on what is earthly and human. Renouncing the “blessed face” is the equivalent of clipping our wings and accepting defeat."
** here 'Drink' as the act of partaking of the consecrated elements is translated to 化缘, in buddhism, to beg for alms; to collect alms.
*梁宗岱Liang Zongdai (1903 - 1983) was a Chinese poet and translator, developed personal friendship with Romain Rolland & Paul Valéry during his student years in France and Germany ~1924 - 1930. This collection of 50 traditional songs (ci词 ) and 6 sonnets in "Reed Flute Breeze" was first published around 1944, his coming to terms on love as sacrificial act when our poet decided to leave his second wife, a good and intellectually stimulating lady and mother of his three children, in order to offer the ultimate protection to another woman with little education and was in a deplorable domestic situation.
We are fortunate to receive a manuscript with complete bilingual texts from translator Cheng Jiahui. For our coming issues, we might select a few more to reveal much dramatic truth as lived by Liang Zongdai with his passion, and also gracious understanding later on, from his second wife 沉樱, who could have taken it as a dejection but instead, transformed it into a blessing and became a prolific translator/publisher on her own in Taiwan.
Our translator, Professor Cheng Jiahui 程家惠 has a dashing and daring style, most fitting to Kenneth Rexroth's remark as "an all-out advocate". I particularly love his treatment of last 3 lines in the original: "All will wither and fade, be it red or yellow. Hold infinity in hand, and eternity in the hollow"
Isn’t life a river slow and long?
With you I sing a song,
A toll to break through all woe
With nets above and snares below.
Give me a reed flute
TO make for you all stars fly off their route,
And turn the icy seas
Into soft waves of breeze.
Why bother with joy or sorrow,
And life today or death tomorrow?
Up and down, day and night,
Freely I fly as a swallow.
Giving me a knowing smile,
The fishing man sees me as his fellow.
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a flower of mallow.
All will wither and fade
Be it red or yellow.
Hold infinity in hand,
And eternity in the hollow.